Are you a ham-lover? Meat-obsessed? Well you haven't had ham until you've had jamon iberico. This ham is so highly respected there's an international competition centered around creating a tapas plate to compliment it. That's one special meat!
The cured spanish ham has only been available in the United States since 2007, so it's still a hot commodity in NYC (read about it's arrival here). It can only be made from pigs of a very particular breed and diet, with a very particular manicure.
Another word for the ham is pata negra, a reference to the unique black nails sported by all pure Iberico pigs. I'd like to think that these pigs are the punks of the hog world, but given their fancy diet I'd assume they're probably more the aristocratic types.
Pata Negra is also the name of an adorable restaurant in the East Village that would be the perfect setting for an impressive first date. We learned that the difference between the various hams on the menu came down to how many acorns the pigs had eaten during their life: the longer they have been fed acorns, the more expensive (and delicious) the ham becomes. Since the pata negra was twice as expensive (read: twice as many acorns?) and the waitress described it as a ham for special occasions, we opted to try the regular jamon iberico.
As soon as the ham arrived, I understood what all the fuss was about. The smell wafting up to us from the table was almost that of cheese, but the first bite was all tender meat with hints of butter and smoke. The ham paired perfectly with the three Spanish cheeses we ordered: a classic Manchego, an ashy Monte Enebro and a special that wasn't on the menu and was extremely salty, smokey, and crumbly (and wasn't my favorite, to tell the truth.)
I highly recommend the restaurant Pata Negra to anyone looking for an intimate, authentic meal of true spanish tapas. And I highly recommend the ham pata negra to anyone looking for a rich, flavorful meat to pair with Spanish cheeses!
Now go out and eat some ham and cheese.